Archive for October, 2011

New article out – Do Classroom Textbooks Encourage Learner Autonomy?

Friday, October 28th, 2011

An article written by Cem Balcikanli and myself was just published in Novitas. You can download the article here.


Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 2011, 5(2), 265-272.





Abstract: The development of learner autonomy is widely seen as beneficial in preparing students for lifelong
learning. It is also recognised that most learners need explicit instruction in skills for independent learning.
Classrooms provide a natural opportunity to develop these skills in learners. As textbooks play such an important
role in most classrooms, it is important to ask to what extent they prepare learners for their future learning.
Surprisingly, this has not been done before. This study investigated five English textbooks, commonly used in
classrooms worldwide, to determine the 1) range and 2) frequency of advice given to learners about the language
learning process. It uses an evaluative framework to identify advice relating to the different aspects of the
independent learning process. The study found that the textbooks do little to foster learner autonomy and that
when they do, they offer limited opportunity for practice to students.

Keywords: Learner autonomy, materials adaptation, language textbooks.

Özet: Ö?renen özerkli?inin geli?imi ö?rencileri ya?am boyu ö?renme sürecine haz?rlama konusunda yararl?d?r.
Birçok ö?rencinin ba??ms?z ö?renmeyle ilgili olarak belirgin bir ?ekilde e?itim almas? s?kl?kla fark edilen bir
durumdur. S?n?f ortamlar? ö?rencilerin bu becerilerini geli?tirmesi için do?al bir f?rsat olarak
de?erlendirilmektedir. Ders kitaplar?, s?n?f ortamlar?nda oldukça önemli bir rol oynad??? için, ders kitaplar?n?n
ö?rencileri gelecekteki ö?renme süreçlerine ne kadar haz?rlad?klar? sorulmas? gereken önemli bir sorudur. Bunun
henüz yap?lmam?? olmas? oldukça dü?ündürücüdür. Bu ba?lamda, bu çal??ma ö?rencilere dil ö?renme süreciyle
ilgili olarak verilen bilgilerin 1) çe?itlili?i 2) s?kl?klar?n? belirlemek amac?yla tüm dünyada s?kl?kla kullan?lan be?
?ngilizce ders kitab?n? incelemi?tir. Ba??ms?z ö?renme sürecine ili?kin bilgileri belirlemek için de?erlendirme
çerçevesi kullan?lm?? ve incelenen ders kitaplar?n?n ö?renen özerkli?ini az geli?tirdi?i ve ö?rencilerin bu süreci
deneyimlemesi konusunda s?n?rl? f?rsatlar sundu?u sonucuna ula??lm??t?r.

Anahtar sözcükler: Ö?renen özerkli?i, materyal uyarlama, dil ders kitaplar?
The development of learner autonomy has become commonplace in many classrooms around
the world. The idea that learners need to be able to take control over their own learning to be
successful not just in class, but also to learn independently without a teacher outside the class,
has become widely accepted in mainstream language teaching (Benson, 2001). In general,
there is now a broader awareness of the importance of developing language learning skills in
addition to the language itself. The development of learner autonomy is sometimes carried out
through ‘learner training’ or ‘dedicated strategy instruction’ but the most likely context in
which learners come into contact with the idea of autonomy on a regular basis, is the language
course, and by extension, the textbook used in that course. Course textbooks may include
some deliberate focus on the learning process and encourage students to reflect on their
progress and as such are likely to play an important potential role in the development of
students’ independent learning skills. However, it is unclear how textbooks implement this, or
indeed, if they really do. If they do not, or do so inadequately, then it is less likely that
students will develop as autonomous learners. There is no previous research to answer these

PhD, Middlesex University, The UK,
Lecturer, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey,
Reinders and Balç?kanl?
questions and this study therefore set out to investigate and compare the inclusion of a focus
on autonomous learning skills in five of the most commonly used English textbooks.

Materials evaluation for autonomy

This small-scale study involved an evaluation of course textbooks. Evaluating language
teaching materials can take place at different stages. At the pre-use stage materials are seen as
work plans or constructs, during use they are judged as materials in process, while
retrospective evaluation considers outcomes from materials use (Breen, 1989). Ellis (1997)
suggests that predictive evaluation, which aims to determine appropriateness for a specific
context, is carried out either by experts or by teachers using checklists and guidelines. At the
in-use stage ‘long-term, systematic evaluations of materials … are generally considered to be
successful’ (Tomlinson, 1998, p. 5). These include ‘formative decisions for improvement
through supplementation or adaptation and [sensitising] teachers to their own teaching and
learning situation’ (Nedkova 2000, p. 210).

Evaluating textbooks for autonomy can be done at each of these three stages, but here we
limit ourselves to predictive evaluation; we aim to ‘determine the appropriateness for a
specific context’, which in our case means the extent to which the textbooks attempt to
provide information about, and practice in, skills for autonomous language learning. No
previous studies exist that we are aware of that have looked at this particular question. There
are, however, studies that have investigated how self-access materials (i.e. materials used in a
self-access centre by students learning independently), and the extent to which they support
the development of learner autonomy. Reinders & Lewis (2005, 2006) investigated 25
randomly selected materials advertised as ‘suitable for self-access’, from their University’s
self-access centre. They then applied an evaluative framework for self-study materials. They
found that many of the materials did not include those elements needed for successful self-study. In a follow-up study they found that this applied not only to print materials but also to
computer programs for the self-study of languages (2005). Purely self-study materials (i.e. not
designed for use in a self-access context) were investigated by Jones (1993). He found that
many of the ‘do it yourself’ materials he looked at were old-fashioned in their pedagogy and
methodology with a number in 1993 still based on audiolingual principles. Jones also found
that strategy training and the fostering of autonomous learning skills were almost entirely

Previous, informal, discussions held by practitioners interested in learner autonomy, such as
those on the long-standing Auto-L discussion list and the ‘autonomy in learning and teaching
materials’ blog and forum have emphasised the importance of evaluating textbooks for their
focus on autonomy. As they are often the primary (and in some cases the only) source of
information about learning, it is important that it is investigated how they encourage students
to reflect on their learning process, and how they offer practice and feedback in this. The
discussions held online also pointed out that such investigation may help to establish
parameters for recommended textbook features, which will help in future materials
production. Such evaluation of regular classroom textbooks for their focus on autonomous
learning has not, to the best of our knowledge, been carried out to date. We therefore set out
to fill this gap in the literature.

Previous studies (e.g. Fenner 2000) have highlighted the importance of identifying whether
textbook materials give students opportunities to make their own choices about what or how
to learn within the book, whether there is a focus on learning styles and strategies, and
Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 2011, 5(2), 265-272.

whether there are opportunities for reflection and awareness-building. As for the Turkish
context, there have been certain studies focusing on course book assessment and evaluation
up to now. To illustrate, Ar?kan (2008) examined what kind of topics are included in 15 EFL
textbooks used in Turkey. Employing both quantitative and qualitative measures, he found out
that the topics do not reflect real life as much. Ar?kan (2009) collected the opinions of future
teachers of English in order to shed light on what happens in Turkish EFL classrooms with
regard to the use of English. Using qualitative research design and analyzing reports made by
12 volunteering practicum students, the research indicated that participants generally find the
quality of coursebooks acceptable although problems with coursebooks are often associated
with the teachers who use them. Kesen (2010), on the other hand, investigated EFL learners’
perceptions about the concept of foreign language coursebook by means of metaphors.
Analyzing the data using the content analysis, the study indicated that for most of the learners,
language coursebooks are perceived as a planet, foreign country, secret garden, and space,
which indicates uncertainty and enigma experienced by the learners. Nonetheless, none of
those, to the best of our knowledge, paid a particular attention to the place of autonomy in
textbooks. In this regard, in order to investigate if, and if so, how textbooks books provide
information and practice in the areas of whether textbook materials give students
opportunities to make their own choices about what or how to learn within the book, whether
there is a focus on learning styles and strategies, and whether there are opportunities for
reflection and awareness-building, we drew on a framework for self-directed learning
developed by one of the authors (Reinders, 2010). It includes eight stages in the self-directed
learning process. These stages are iterative; they form a cycle that repeats and builds on itself.
They are an expansion and adaptation of the five-step model developed by Knowles (1975).
They are widely considered to be the key skills learners need to be able to self-direct their

Table 1. Stages in the self-directed learning process
Identifying needs
Placement tests, teacher
Learner experiences/ difficulties in
using the language.
Setting goals
Determined by the course,
relatively fixed.
Contextually determined, relatively
Planning learning
Determined by the teacher.
Somewhat flexible.
Contextually determined. Very
Selecting resources Provided by teacher. Self-selection by learners.
Selecting learning strategies Teacher models and instructions. Self-selection by learners.
Exercises and activities provided
by teacher
Implementation (language use) and
Monitoring progress
Regular classroom feedback and
comments on assignments and
Self-monitoring, peer-feedback
Assessment and revision Tests, curriculum changes Self-assessment, reflection

Reinders and Balç?kanl?
Figure 1 shows how these eight stages form a cycle, and how they are grounded in and impact
on students’ reflection, motivation, and their interaction (with the language and other
learners). Astute readers will have noticed that we have used the term ‘self-directed learning’
above when talking about learner autonomy. It is important to note here, that by emphasising
observable skills we are taking a somewhat mechanical view of learner autonomy (one that
includes self-directed learning skills). We are fully aware of the more political aspect of
learner autonomy, relating to an individual’s freedom to make their own choices about their
education, as well as the more philosophical view relating to ‘the ability for individuals to
choose and follow their own conception of a life that they deem to be suitable for themselves’
(Winch 2006, p. 1). We are not diminuishing the importance of these elements of autonomy,
but they are less easily identifiable from materials and are beyond the scope of this article. . In
the rest of the article we describe our study and its results as they pertain to the observable
and recognisably trainable elements of learner autonomy.

Figure 1: The cycle of self-directed learning

First, we identified five popular English language textbooks based on publicly available sales-rankings. The criteria for inclusion were that the books teach English, as opposed to other
languages, are written in English, are available for learners at the intermediate level, and are
widely used in many countries. The books we selected are: Face to Face, New Cutting Edge,
New Opportunities, The Interchange Series, and New Headway. Although it is possible these
are not the best-selling books we do believe they are both very popular and widely available
around the world even in Turkish context as some of those were used in several research



Setting goals


and revision

Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 2011, 5(2), 265-272.

studies in Turkey as well (Ar?kan, 2008; Ar?kan, 2009; Batd? and Özbek, 2010). Next, the five
textbooks were investigated by the two authors in terms of the occurrence or absence of these
eight stages using the framework discussed in the previous section. We made a distinction
between cases where the books provided information about self-directed learning, and where
they provided opportunities to put them into practice. For example, if a book talked about the
importance of learning strategies but did not give any opportunities for controlled practice,
this would be considered as an example of giving ‘information’ only. If, however, classroom
activities were included to give students a chance to practise these strategies, then this would
be categorised as ‘practice’. Any cases where there was a mismatch between the evaluation of
both researchers were discussed until all discrepancies (of which there were very few) were

First we present a summary of the results in Table 2. This shows the number of books in
which each of the learning stages was included. The final column shows the number of books
that gave information about that learning stage (for example, explaining the importance of
‘identifying needs’) and the number of books that included activities for students to put it into
practice. We include information about books individually in order to be able to show how
they included information about the different learning stages.

Table 2. Learning stages in the textbooks
Identifying needs X
Setting goals X
Planning learning X
Selecting resources X
Selecting learning strategies 2
New Opportunities: includes information on
speaking strategies.
New Headway: includes information on
vocabulary records.
Practice X
Monitoring progress 2*
Cutting Edge: At the end of each unit, there is a
section called ‘do you remember’.
Face to Face: Each unit includes a Progress
Portfolio where students record what they have
Assessment and revision


As the table above shows, the language textbooks we looked at do not explicitly encourage
learner autonomy. New Opportunities and New Headway do offer limited opportunities for
students to select their own learning strategies and provide practical tips around this. New
Opportunities, for instance, introduces speaking strategies, such as keeping the
communication channel open, and terminating the conversation appropriately. Even though it
does not enable students to practise these strategies, it does encourage language learners to
use them outside the classroom. As for New Headway, it has a section called “keeping
vocabulary records” where students are given information on how to memorise lexical items
Reinders and Balç?kanl?
covered in that unit. That is, students are also encouraged to discuss with their teachers and
other students how they record new words with questions such as ‘which of these do you use?
A- Translation. B- The part of speech. C- The meaning’.

As for monitoring progress, Cutting Edge and Face to Face do encourage students to engage
in some monitoring. Cutting Edge has a section called ‘Do you remember?’ where students
are asked to do exercises on the grammatical and lexical points covered. These exercises do
not strictly involve monitoring of progress (as measured against individual learning goals) and
are more about memorization, however since they do let students keep track of their progress
we included them here. Face to Face includes a section called ‘Progress Portfolio’ which
helps students keep track of how much they have achieved over time. To illustrate, this
section includes instructions like “Tick the things you can do in English” and items like ‘I can
describe homes’, ‘I can compare people and things’ and ‘I can talk about future arrangements
and plans’. Additionally, the section asks students to consider what how they feel about their
own progress through questions like “What do you need to study again?” and “Do you need to
go back to the unit?”

Discussion and implications
Textbooks are the most likely way in which learners will come into contact with ideas about
autonomy. At the same time, we agree with Fenner (2000, p. 78), who observes that ‘the
whole idea of developing autonomy may be difficult to reconcile with the use of a textbook in
the foreign language classroom’. Almost all textbooks are collections of texts and tasks
structured by the author in a way he considers best for teaching and learning a foreign
language and in addition, most textbooks define the progression of such learning.’ At the
same time, textbooks do have the potential to foster autonomy in a number of ways even if the
progression of learning is largely fixed, for example, as Cohen (2003, p. 2) points out, through
a focus on learning skills and through strategy instruction; this has the advantage that
‘because the focus of the activities is contextualized language learning, learners can develop
their learning strategy repertoires while learning the target language’. One advantage of using
textbooks with explicit strategy training is that students do not need extracurricular training;
the textbooks reinforce strategy use across both tasks and skills, encouraging students to
continue applying them on their own’ (Cohen, 2003, p. 2).

However, it is clear from the results reported above that such a focus on strategies or other
elements of self-directed learning is not at all common in the five textbooks investigated. Out
of the nine skills, only selecting learning strategies and monitoring progress were covered,
and only in some of the books. Clearly, the enormous amount of attention given to autonomy
in recent years (cf. Benson 2001) has not translated into a deliberate focus on developing
students’ skills for self-directed learning (and by extension, their autonomy) in the most
popular English language textbooks. Even when a textbook does include one or more of the
skills listed in the framework, these are not covered in a structural way; there appears to be no
attempt to draw learners’ attention to the learning process in a way that gradually gives them
more responsibility for their learning. Occasionally some information or an activity may be
included but this is not connected to previous or subsequent content.

What are some of the implications of this? Firstly, teachers will have to be careful not to rely
on textbooks too much to develop learner autonomy. Teachers may expect popular textbooks
published by major publishers to present the state-of-the-art in language teaching, but this
clearly does not extend to skills for self-directed learning. What this means is that teachers
will have to be prepared to evaluate resources before their application in class. Such an
Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 2011, 5(2), 265-272.

evaluation need not take long; the evaluative framework presented here and other suggestions
available in the literature are relatively straightforward. Alternatively, and this is more time-consuming, teachers need to be prepared to adapt or complement classroom materials to
include a focus on learner autonomy. This may mean integrating additional tools, such as a
portfolio, or a needs analysis, into the curriculum and aligning its use with the textbook (for
example, to be used at the start of the course, or at the end of a chapter or section).

What this also means is that textbooks need to be seen more as a source of activities and
information rather than as a storyboard for what happens in class. Most teachers do this
anyway; they select what is most appropriate from existing materials for the given context,
and interpret these materials in their own way. The activities contained within them gain
further meaning from their realisation in the learning practice that occurs between learners
and between learners and teacher; in other words, the social context greatly affects how
activities are played out. There is, therefore, a great deal of opportunity to extend textbook
activities beyond the classroom or to include in them a focus on the learning process, in
addition to the learning content. But this does require an awareness on the part of the teacher
to do so.

Finally, the findings from this small study have clear implications for textbook writers; there
is currently very little attention given in these textbooks to developing autonomy. Fenner
recommends: ‘If textbook writers can create tasks and options which leave room for personal
interpretation and scope for autonomy, and where, consequently, the outcome is
unpredictable, the teacher joins a process of learning in collaboration with the learners. In
order to manage this in the classroom, we have to realize that learning a foreign language is
not an end in itself; language is a tool for communication, and communication is always about
something. It is about interpreting and creating meaning (2000, p. 85)’. Clearly, there is
ample scope for materials writers, publishers and teachers to put into practice the commitment
to developing autonomy that has been voiced so frequently in recent years.


Arikan, A. (2008). Topics of reading passages in ELT coursebooks: What do our students
really read? The Reading Matrix, 8, 70-85.
Arikan, A. (2009). Problems with coursebooks in EFL classrooms: Prospective teachers‘
opinions, EKEV Academic Review, 38, 309-315.
Batd?, V. & Özbek, R. (2010). ?lkö?retim Yabanc? Dil Ö?retiminde Konu?ma Becerilerinin
Geli?tirilmesinde ?ngilizce Ders Kitaplar?n?n Etkilili?i. E-Journal of New World
Sciences Academy. 5, 892–902.
Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. London:
Breen, M. (1989). The evaluation cycle for language learning tasks. In R. K. Johnson (Ed.).
The Second Language Curriculum (pp. 187-206). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Cohen, A. (2003). Strategy Training for Second Language Learners. ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics.
Retrieved from
26 January 2010
Ellis, R. (1997). The Empirical Evaluation of Language Teaching Materials. ELT Journal. 51,
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Fenner, A-B. (2000). Learner Autonomy. In A-B Fenner & D. Newby (Eds). Approaches to
Materials Design in European Textbooks: Implementing Principles of Authenticity,
Learner Autonomy, Cultural Awareness. (pp. 151-164). Strasbourg: Council of Europe
Kesen, A. (2010). Turkish EFL learners’ metaphors with respect to English language
coursebooks. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language). 4, 108-118.
Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed Learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York:
Cambridge: The Adult Education Company.
Jones, F. R. (1993). Beyond the fringe: a framework for assessing teach-yourself materials for
ab initio English-speaking learners’. System, 21, 453-469.
Nedkova, M. (2000). Evaluation. In M. Byram (Ed.). Routledge Encyclopaedia of Language
Teaching and Learning. (pp. 243-261). New York and London: Routledge.
Reinders, H. (2010). Materials development for learner autonomy. Australian Journal of
Teacher Education. 35, 40-55.
Reinders, H. & Lewis, M. (2005). Examining the ‘self” in self-access materials. Reflections, 7,
Reinders, H. & Lewis, M. (2006). The development of an evaluative checklist for self-access
materials. ELT Journal. 60, 272-278.
Tomlinson, B. (1998). Materials Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Winch, C. (2006). Education, Autonomy and Critical Thinking. New York and London:

Autonomy conference in Glasgow

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

IATEFL LA SIG Pre-Conference Event (PCE), 19 March 2012, Glasgow
Learner Autonomy in Action – across borders

Dear colleagues,
The focus of our pre-conference in Glasgow will – as indicated in the title above – be “Learner Autonomy in Action”. Registration is now open and as something new this year, it will be possible to apply for grants in connection with participation in our PCE (see below).

There will be two plenary talks, one in the morning by David Little, Dublin: “Language Learner Autonomy across borders – where are the borders and do they matter? “ The other will be by Scott Thornbury towards the end of the day: “Unplugged Teaching – Autonomy in Action?” Examples of “autonomy in action” will be placed between these two plenary speakers and are intended to provide a basis for discussions in groups as well as question and answer session with the whole group. The aim of the day is– as in previous years – to shed more light upon what is meant by “learner autonomy” and at the same time to inspire participants to begin or to continue developing learner autonomy in their own contexts (for further details go to our website: )

Registration is now possible for our PCE as well as for the whole conference in Glasgow. There are links for registration from our website:

There are 2 grants of 300 UK pounds each available towards attending the PCE. The goal is to support and encourage teachers/researchers/contributors new to the field of learner autonomy and learner development.
Deadline for grant applications: Please note that applications for grants have to be sent by e-mail ( to the selection committee by November 30th, 2011. Please write “Conference Grant Application” in the subject heading. A decision will be announced by December 20th, 2011. For further information on the criteria of award and the application process please go to

To complete the programme outlined above, we need your experience with “Learner Autonomy in Action “. Therefore, if you are a practicing teacher (at any level), a learning advisor, a teacher educator, a manager/director at institutions where autonomy is being developed don’t hesitate to send us your proposal – even if you have just started on more learner-centred approaches.

FORMAT: Your presentations can either take the form of a poster presentation, a short talk, or any other short interactive presentation (e.g. video). Poster presentations will be given 3-5 minutes at the beginning of the day to introduce their presentation to the audience whereupon there will be time and space for talking to the individual presenters. The short talks/interactive inputs will be given 15-minute slots for presentation to the audience.
A proposal form is available on our mail website, or on the event website:
Deadline for proposals is Thursday 1st December, 2011. Once the selection process has been completed you will receive a notification of acceptance or rejection by email on Monday 19th, 2011. Please send completed forms to
NB Giving a presentation at the PCE does not exclude you from giving a presentation during the other days of the conference in the main conference programme.

Google speech translation now in 14 languages

Friday, October 14th, 2011

As it says on the tin! More here.


special issue of Language Learning & Technology on ‘Learner Autonomy and New Learning Environments’

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

We are very proud to share with you the special issue of Language Learning & Technology journal on ‘Learner Autonomy and New Learning Environments’. You can find the special issue here.


Autonomy and technology

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

I always very much enjoy reading Robert Godwin-Jones’s articles in Language Learning & Technology on ‘emerging technologies’. Godwin-Jones does an excellent job of summarising the latest technological developments in a very accessible manner. The latest instalment, in the special issue Cynthia White and I edited on ‘Autonomy and CALL’ is on emerging technologies for autonomous language learning. Very much a recommended read!

You can find the article here.


Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Our new article was just published in the Journal of Second Language Teaching and Research. You can read it here.

Enhancing Information Language Learning with Mobile Technology – Does it Work?

Hayo Reinders, Middlesex University, UK
Min Young Cho, University of Hawai’i, USA

There are many theories that attempt to explain second language acquisition processes and factors determining success or failure. Despite a lack of general agreement between proponents of these theories, research has convincingly shown that the amount of exposure to target language input is one important predictor of ultimate achievement levels. ‘Time on task’ is as important in language learning as it is in many other domains (cf. Reber, 1993) and it is therefore important to identify ways in which this can be increased. An obvious possibility is to encourage learners to engage with (and in) the language outside the classroom. Informal learning, in the sense of learning outside of formal education, has been shown to be a major aspect of adult learning (Cross, 2007) and, given appropriate preparation and support, learners can greatly increase opportunities for learning if they can do so independently. Mobile technologies have obvious potential in this regard. However, is it possible to improve language skills in this way? In this article we report on an exploratory study into the use of cellphones for extensive listening practice. We used input enhancement to draw learners’ attention to not only the meaning of the materials but also the formal (grammatical) aspects of the input. We found that the use of mobile technology presented a number of challenges and in this study did not result in learners acquiring the target structures. We conclude with a number of recommendations for the use and future study of mobile technologies for (language) learning.